A reporter suggested to Lowry that Johnson goes down in a heap, clutching one limb or another once a game. “Once? Only once?” DeMar DeRozan interrupted. “To be honest he’s probably our heart and soul, so when that happened it kind of scared us a little bit,” Lowry said. “I’ve seen Amir get hit by a Mack truck and get up,” DeRozan added. “I always hate to see him go down. One thing about Amir, Amir plays through any and every thing. He kind of scared me tonight. When he grabbed his knee, I kind of cussed at him a little to make sure he was all right.”
It was far from pretty and the Raptors, despite their 39-30 record, are far from a finished product, but they’ve got fight and they came off the mat to subdue the Hawks, who missed too many open looks down the stretch and were simply too sloppy in their ball security. In other words, Atlanta, which led 71-60 heading into the fourth quarter, played like Toronto did for the first three. Before he gathered with the media, head coach Dwane Casey shared a moment with MLSE top dog Tim Leiweke. “I told Tim on the way in, it was like pulling teeth, it was like going to the dentist’s office,’’ said Casey of his team’s play for most of the afternoon match. “Like I told the players, if it’s 5 o’clock in the morning, midnight, 2 o’clock, we’ve got to get ourselves going,” Casey said. “Our season-ticket holders pay good money to see us play and we gave them a bad performance in the first half.”
”We were up the whole game, we had the momentum, and then we just kind of crumbled at the end,” Hawks forward DeMarre Carroll said. The late collapse brought back bad memories of Friday’s 111-105 home loss to New Orleans, in which the Pelicans overturned a late Atlanta lead with a 42-point fourth quarter. Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer called the back-to-back defeats ”very troubling,” a sentiment shared by forward Paul Millsap. ”We just lose our focus down the stretch,” Millsap said. ”I feel like we had it for three quarters. Fourth quarter, another letdown.”
DeMar DeRozan’s jumper came to life at just the right time, but it was the irrepressible Kyle Lowry who made all the difference, as he has so often this season. With less than three minutes remaining, Toronto trailed by one; from there it was a 13-2 run, capped off by seven straight points by Lowry. He made a short runner to put Toronto up five, then stole the ensuing inbounds pass for an open layup and a seven point lead. The final act, a step-back three in front of the Hawks’ bench, was classic Lowry: after the shot fell through the net Lowry walked slowly up the court, letting the joy of the crowd wash over him and giving off more swagger than he ever has. All in all, it was another sublime performance (25 points, 4 assists, 4 steals) for a player who is having one of the great seasons a Raptor has ever had. (Where exactly Lowry’s season ranks is a question for another day, but it’s safe to say it’s in the top five.)
That was…well it was a matinee game for sure. The Hawks started off looking like the better team jumping out to a very quick lead. Then towards the end of the 1st quarter it got really sloppy. Turns out the majority of the game was going to get played that way from both sides. The Hawks played the same way consistently throughout the game, sluggish with bursts of energy here and there. The Raptors meanwhile were very inconsistent, until the 4th quarter. The Raptors played rough, not good, basketball for the first three quarters. Then, it was like they flipped a switch. They outscored the Hawks 36-15 in the 4th quarter and were far and away the better team.
The Raptors outscored Atlanta 35-16 in the fourth quarter and ended the game on a 15-2 run to secure the win. Dynamic point guard Kyle Lowry powered Toronto with 13 of his team-high 25 points in the last period, including the final seven points of the game to seal the comeback bid. DeMar DeRozan poured in 21 points and center Jonas Valanciunas posted a double-double with 13 points and 13 rebounds, while backup point guard Greivis Vasquez (12) and Terrence Ross (10) were also in double-figures.
DeRozan pushed the lead to five with two free throws before Mack answered with a jumper, but Lowry sealed it by hitting a jump hook, then stealing Antic’s inbounds pass and streaking in for a fast-break layup, making it 93-86 with 39 seconds left. Lowry capped it with his third 3 of the game with 11 seconds remaining. ”That’s what he does,” DeRozan said of Lowry’s big finish. ”To be honest, that’s Kyle. The hunger to win kicks in.”
“You don’t know if it’s a soccer move or what,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said of Johnson going down, “but he had my heart in my throat there for a little bit. Once he gave the thumbs-up, we had to get him back in there.”
“When (Johnson) grabbed his knee, I kind of cussed at him to make sure he was alright,” DeMar DeRozan said. “He had my heart in my throat a little bit,” Casey said. Johnson is known for playing when hurt in Toronto and he’s earned a reputation for motivating his teammates by giving more than it appears he should have to give. Referring to Johnson as the team’s ‘heart and soul’ isn’t going too far. “(Johnson) is our heart and soul, so when that happened it kind of scared us a little bit,” Kyle Lowry said. “He gives his all and he makes everyone else give their all too.”
Down by as many as 14 points and allowing the visiting Hawks to shoot 54 per cent in the first half, the Raptors coach stormed into the locker room and addressed his team at intermission. “I sang them a lullaby,” he joked. “I gave them some milk and cookies and said, ‘let’s go’.” You didn’t have to be a fly on the wall to gauge the tone of Casey’s halftime sermon. “Oh, man, he came in here yelling,” said DeMar DeRozan after Toronto’s 96-86 comeback victory over Atlanta. “Once Casey yells, you either have to do your job or you’re going to hear him yelling after the game. We understood.”
The Raptors outrebounded the Hawks 16-6 in the fourth and limited their visitors to 6-of-22 shooting from the field. “You have to give Toronto credit,’’ Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer said. “They made a lot of plays in the fourth quarter on both ends of the court. “Defensively, they turned up their pressure and held us to 15 points. On the other end, they made a lot of shots, they made a lot of plays. “We just weren’t able to make enough plays down the stretch.” The Hawks were by far the better team for most of the afternoon until the fourth quarter. “We just lost focus,’’ all-star Paul Millsap said. “Lost focus and they hit a few shots. We dropped our heads a little bit, but we have to be more mentally tough.”
Offense: B This grade is based almost entirely on that fourth quarter. During the first three quarters, the Raptors looked hung-over from that Kevin Durant dagger on Friday. They settled for a lot of perimeter shots. They were very sloppy offensively, just like the last time they played the Hawks. DeMarre Carroll had four steals in the first quarter. The offense often looked stagnant as players dribbled the ball as the shot clock wound down, forcing the offense into those aforementioned difficult shots. Then, as soon as the Hawks hit that three to go up 14, it’s like a switch was finally turned on. Lowry scored 13 of his 25 points in the fourth, including the last seven points to ice the game. DeMar DeRozan was awful early in the game but finished the game with eleven points in the fourth. The Raptors became very aggressive, attacking the paint and the glass. They were able to turn on the switch at just the right time to come out with a huge victory.
The potential in Ross to be an elite-level contributor is undeniable, but much like the time it took DeMar DeRozan to transform into the well-rounded, scoring threat we see today, the Raptors’ young talent will also need time to develop, and now is not that time. On the heels of another win laced with self-imposed errors, what Toronto needs most right now is the often steady hand of Vasquez to help steer the ship when it counts the most. Clearly, DeRozan and Kyle Lowry will continue to lead the Raptors offensively, and on some nights, Ross will be an important part of that. But for now, sliding Vasquez into the two spot beside Lowry while DeRozan moves freely within the offense will help to limit these self-inflicted mistakes. In the meantime, Ross can add a valuable scoring threat to the bench and rejoin the starting five when he becomes the well-rounded guard that Toronto hoped for when he was initially drafted.
From Elias: The Raptors rallied from a 71-60 deficit after three quarters to post a 96-86 win over the Hawks. Toronto shot 60 percent from the field in the fourth quarter (12-for-20), while holding Atlanta to 27 percent (6-for-22, 1-for-10 from three-point range). It was the first game in the Raptors’ 19-year NBA history in which they trailed by a double-digit margin heading to the fourth quarter and won by 10 or more points. There was only one other such win in the NBA this season: Charlotte over Detroit in December. Five current NBA teams have never won such a game: Washington (in the NBA since 1961), Houston (since 1967), Milwaukee (since 1968), New Orleans (since 1988), and Orlando (since 1989).